Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

China Begins Test of World's Largest Radio Telescope: What Might It Find?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

China Begins Test of World's Largest Radio Telescope: What Might It Find?

Article excerpt

The search is on in China to better understand the cosmos, its origins, and, perhaps, find extraterrestrial life.

China has started to test its Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST), unveiling the world's largest radio telescope at a ceremony Sunday. While Chinese scientists will spend the next three years testing, tuning, and calibrating the dish, it has already made one discovery. It has detected radio signals from a pulsar about 1,351-light-years away, one of thousands of remnants of burned-out stars the telescope is expected to discover in its lifetime, according to Qian Lei, an associate researcher with the National Astronomical Observation under the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The telescope - which spans 1,640-feet, and whose combined area is equal to almost 450 basketball courts - shows China's growing ambition to be a science and space superpower. But the country has also emphasized the importance of collaborating with the international scientific community in its quest to understand the stars and, perhaps, discover other galactic inhabitants.

"The ultimate goal of FAST is to discover the laws of the development of the universe," Dr. Qian told CCTV, the Chinese state broadcaster. "In theory, if there is civilization in outer space, the radio signal it sends will be similar to the signal we can receive when a pulsar (spinning neutron star) is approaching us."

The telescope, comprised of 4,450 panels, is nestled in a natural crater in the remote Pingtang county in China's southern Guizhou province. Green hillsides of karst formations, dissolved and eroded over eons, envelope the wok-shaped dish. It is the ideal environment for a radio telescope, according to The New York Times. The karst serve as a natural barrier against earthly radio noise and wind that could drown out whispers from space. The second largest radio telescope, the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, was built into a similar environment.

About 984 feet, or 300 meters, wide, the Arecibo Observatory was used by Joseph Taylor, an astronomer at Princeton University, in his discovery of indirect proof of gravitational waves, which earned him a Nobel Prize in 1993.

FAST has double the sensitivity of its Puerto Rican counterpart, and five to 10 times the surveying speed, according to Xinhua.

Yet, both telescopes more or less operate the same way: They detect electromagnetic radiation in the cosmos.

"This is light with a wavelength a million times or so longer than our eyes can detect," writes Elias Brinks, an astronomer at the University of Hertfordshire, in a contribution to US News and World Report. "Not surprisingly, the sky at these long wavelengths looks vastly different, which is exactly why observations at radio wavelengths reveal information that is not accessible with optical telescopes. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.